How to Decide When You Should Bug Out and When You Should Bug In

June 21, 2022 6 min read

How to Decide When You Should Bug Out and When You Should Bug In

It’s never a bad thing to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Part of being prepared for emergencies like natural disasters or preparing for civil unrest is understanding the terms “bugging out” and “bugging in.” The definitions of these important terms, the pros and cons that come with each strategy, and how to incorporate them into your emergency response preparedness plan will make or break your survival.  

Deciding if you should bug out vs. bug in is a complex decision. Making the correct decision will depend on various factors related to your personal situation and the larger emergency scenario that is occurring.

Keep reading to learn more about bugging out vs. bugging in and how to prepare yourself and your family for any scenario. 

What is “Bugging Out”?

Bugging out is a term used to describe evacuating the area after a disaster has struck and when your location is no longer considered safe. Typically when you bug out, you ought to be prepared to leave your home and belongings with little to no expectation of returning to them again.

Bugging out may be a temporary situation. For example, when you need to bug out of your home to avoid the dangerous impacts of an impending hurricane.

However, bugging out can also be a permanent decision. In this case, you need to be prepared to survive while on the move. To survive in a permanent or long-term bug-out situation, you will need a few essentials.

  • Emergency food and water
  • First aid kit and medications
  • Portable shelter
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Flashlight, batteries, and fire-starting equipment
  • Self-defense weapons


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In some disaster or emergency scenarios, bugging out may not be necessary, or it may be unsafe to bug out. In these cases, you may choose to “bug in” instead.

What is “Bugging In”?

Bugging in is a term used to describe the decision to stay in one place and not evacuate. Bugging in is similar to hunkering down and riding out whatever the emergency or disaster may be.  

Typically, you may choose to bug in when travel is too dangerous. For example, if there are mobs outside due to civil unrest, it may be safer to stay home. In most cases, you may also consider bugging in because you have already prepped all the necessities you need to survive in your home and have prepared family emergency kit.


Bug In vs. Bug Out Strategies

Depending on the scenario, you will need to select between bugging in or bugging out. No matter what you choose, you will need to implement strategies to survive.

Bug In Strategies

  1. Prepare your shelter: Depending on the emergency, you will need to prepare your shelter in various ways. For example, boarding up the windows for a hurricane is a common bug-in strategy. Installing a bunker or safe room is also an excellent strategy for bugging in.

  2. Build a survival kit: Your survival kit should include all the necessities (such as food and water) that you need to survive while hunkering down in one place.

  3. Have a security plan: Your bug-in location should be in a secure and defendable position. Ideally, it will not be an easy target for looters or burglars. Your security plan may include tactics for surveillance and weapons.

  4. Information & Communication: Your success at bugging in during a nuclear attack or natural disaster will depend on you having access to important information and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

preparedness checklist for bugging in

Bug Out Strategies

  1. Have an evacuation plan and bug out location (BOL): Your decision to bug out is only as good as your evacuation plan. Having a predetermined route to your BOL and alternate routes will make or break your bug-out plans.

  2. Prepare your transport: You can only bug out if you have reliable transport. Preparing your car, boat, motorcycle, or airplane for bugging out is vital. Stocking your transport with survival gear is also a good idea.

  3. Have a plan B: Depending on the scenario, bugging out may not succeed. In which case, you will need a backup plan in order to survive. Typically, we recommend having a secondary BOL ready to go.

Benefits & Dangers of Bugging Out

Choosing to bug out as a result of civil unrest or impending warfare can be a difficult decision. There are many benefits and dangers to bugging out that someone will have to consider to make the most informed decision possible.

Bugging Out

Benefits of Bugging Out

Dangers of Bugging Out

●     Separating yourself from looming danger

●     Not reaching the bug out location

●     Opportunity to find a superior environment

●     Running out of resources

●     Your assets are always with you, and you stay mobile

●     Lack of professional and advanced health care


Benefits & Dangers of Bugging In

Compared to bugging out, the decision to bug in and stay put will also come with its own benefits and dangers.


Bugging In

Benefits of Bugging In

Dangers of Bugging In

●     Familiarity with your surroundings

●     Becoming a target to burglars, looters, or neighbors asking for help

●     Preemptive planning and prepping

●     Limited ability to restock and gather more resources

●     The elderly and young children can be kept safer

●     Getting cabin fever after being confined for extended periods


What are Bug Out Situations?

Depending on the situation, you may choose to bug out vs. bug in and ride out the emergency. Below you will find some common scenarios where you might want to bug out.

Natural Disasters

The worst tornado in the US is a powerful reminder of why it is important to be prepared for natural disasters, such as wildfires, floods, tornadoes (which require a tornado kit for survival), and hurricanes, as they can cause one to need to bug out. If your home and family are in immediate danger if you stay, bugging out is often the smartest decision.


In wartime scenarios, civilians who do not evacuate or bug out are often victims of collateral damage. Typically, if active warfare, such as bombings and gunfights, is occurring close to your location, then bugging out may be necessary for survival.

Civil Unrest

Civil unrest sometimes occurs after natural disasters, food shortages, or economic collapses. This is especially true for individuals living in urban areas making our urban preppers to be always prepared in case of emergencies. If angry mobs of looters and rioters are closing in on your general location, and you are concerned for your safety, the best decision may be to bug out before the trouble arrives.

What are Bug In Situations?

On the other hand, you may have better chances of surviving some emergency scenarios if you stay put and decide to bug in vs. bug out. Below are some examples of emergency scenarios where you might want to bug in.


Choosing to bug in during a pandemic became an all-too-real circumstance for most of us in 2020 when the novel COVID-19 coronavirus first arrived in the United States. Staying home or bugging in and relying on the resources you’ve prepped during a pandemic is often the smartest decision in order to isolate yourself and your family from the deadly disease.

Civil Unrest

Above, we mentioned that civil unrest might be a reason to bug out. However, depending on how things are developing in your surrounding area, it may actually be safer to bug in. This is particularly true if travel has become too unsafe and unreliable. Bugging in during civil unrest may also be the best choice if you know you already have all the necessities to survive prepped at your home.

Chemical, Biological, Or Nuclear Attack

If there is an impending chemical, biological or nuclear attack, your instinct may be to bug out. Choosing to bug out in these scenarios would only make sense if you received intel about the attack well in advance and if you have the skills and gear necessary for survival on the move, such as a 72-hour emergency kit.

Otherwise, it may be safer to bug in and ride it out. The reason is that typically we are more comfortable and prepared in our homes. Evacuation may be too cumbersome if you have young children, the elderly, or family members with disabilities.

Timing is Crucial When Deciding to Bug Out

Whether you decide to bug out vs. bug in, timing is crucial. Prepping is a large part of getting the timing correct when choosing to evacuate before a hurricane or hunker down and bug in.

When considering bugging out, having protocols for evacuation and a prepared bug-out location will ensure that you get out in time to avoid whatever the impending danger may be. On the other hand, understanding when an evacuation has become too dangerous and deciding to bug in will also depend on your preparedness and risk tolerance.

While preparing for the apocalypse may seem like a far-fetched idea, it's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to emergency scenarios like nuclear warfare or a zombie apocalypse. For more helpful resources related to prepping, or to speak with an expert, visit our website. We are just one click away.